Revelstoke NCES environment society spokesperson on their application for federal intervention on caribou recovery

Read and listen: North Columbia Environmental Society director Sarah Newton on the Revelstoke environmental organization's 2018 request to the federal environment minister for an emergency stop to logging in old growth in the Revelstoke area in an effort to aid endangered mountain caribou.

File photo: Parks Canada staff apply a satellite linked radio collar to track movements after their release from the caribou maternity pen located on the west shore of Lake Revelstoke. Photo: Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild

In April of 2018, the Revelstoke-based North Columbia Environmental Society sent a request under Section 80 of the federal Species at Risk Act to federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna for an emergency order under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) to stop logging in the federally identified critical habitat of mountain caribou in areas to the north, west and east of Revelstoke.

The application was filed by the NCES and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative. There have also been other Section 80 requests to the minister requesting intervention on woodland caribou recovery.

In early May of 2018, McKenna declared that the caribou in the area are under imminent threat, saying that immediate action was needed in order to recover woodland caribou in B.C.

That process led to the draft Section 11 agreement between the B.C. and federal governments, which will be discussed at a Revelstoke open house on Monday, April 15.

The Mountaineer spoke with North Columbia Environmental Society (NCES) director Sarah Newton to find out about the Revelstoke-based environmental group’s reasons for requesting the immediate stop to logging in old growth.

This story is part of an ongoing series featuring community voices that we’re publishing in advance of the B.C. draft caribou recovery open house on April 15 at the Revelstoke Community and Aquatic Centre. The Mountaineer has reported on the caribou issue for over a year since the federal government stepped in under the Species at Risk Act. For background on the issue, see our caribou story archives here.

Newton said that while many actions designed to recovery the endangered species were happening on the ground, logging in habitat that caribou use continued, and the NCES was frustrated by the situation, leading to the request of the federal minister.

She said the NCES was glad to see the federal government was getting involved. “It’s a relief. We feel we are being listened to,” Newton said, noting that caribou are still declining.

“It’s not working because the logging aspect wasn’t being done as thoroughly or to the books as it was supposed to,” she said. “We didn’t have time to negotiate or figure out why, we really had to put a stop to the logging, and especially a lot of it was old growth, which is that critical habitat for the mountain caribou.”

Listen: NCES director Sarah Newton on the NCES request for federal intervention on caribou recovery

She said that a lack of land use planning in the Revelstoke area has exacerbated the situation.

“The longer it takes for us to get a land use plan, the longer it takes for us to get some sort of cohesive plan, the more time we take there’s going to be no caribou left and no old growth,” she said.

One of the offshoots of the new federal pressure to get a Section 11 agreement in place is a process that critics say is short on detail and being rushed to meet federal deadlines. This has led to uncertainty that could fray cooperation among many Revelstoke community groups that have collaborated on caribou recovery in the past. Is the NCES concerned?

“Things do get divisive when it comes down to this crunch. We don’t have any more time for these animals or the old growth,” Newton said. “While we really understand it’s a risk, it’s worth it. We are speaking for these trees and we’re speaking for these animals and we’ve run out of time, unfortunately.”

“It was not something we considered lightly at all,” Newton said, adding that they do understand the socio-economic concerns, such as job losses and loss of access to the backcountry.

She also said that there is a balance between short-term job losses and the long term survival of the species and forest habitat, such as old growth forests that it needs.

“The stakeholder groups and interest groups have something to lose, whether it’s jobs, which is a big issue, or it’s recreational access — there’s something to lose,” Newton said. “Those can all be mitigated, but the fact is the caribou and the old growth have everything to lose. There is no coming back. That’s why there is a time crunch.”

What is the NCES’s hopes as the current Section 11 draft agreement plan moves through the process?

“We hope that everyone really can listen to other … that we really find something that works, and that everyone can see each others’ side of things,” Newton said. “If it’s not the caribou this year, it will be another species in a few years. This closure will help the ecosystem in general, and we are running out of time. Old growth is rare and it needs to be protected, and not just for the mountain caribou.”

The Revelstoke caribou recovery plan consultation meeting is at the Revelstoke Community and Aquatic Centre on Monday, April 15 from 5:30-9:30 p.m.

Want to hear more from us, including several recent issues on the caribou recovery issue? Follow the Revelstoke Mountaineer Podcast on SoundCloud: